December 17, 2011

The flip side of #Hitchens - was he really a leftist?

Is he fantasizing about Iraqis being killed for WMD?
As a counterweight to all the encomiums of praise from (primarily Gnu) Atheists, it is perhaps well worth asking just how much of a leftist he was in the first place, as far as political stances, and how long ago he started, then finished, abandoning the degree of leftism he had, the World Socialist website take on his death is a blast of fresh air:
Hitchens was the sort of private school “leftist” that British society regularly turns out, essentially snobs and careerists, who ditch their former “comrades” as soon as the wind shifts or more tempting opportunities present themselves. His autobiography is an exercise in shameless name-dropping and self-promotion. ...

In the late 1990s, by which time Hitchens had largely given up his leftist pretensions, the Washington Post bluntly portrayed the circles he belonged to in the US capital as “an elite subset of Washington society—the crowd of journalists, intellectuals, authors and policymakers, mostly in their thirties and forties, who regularly dine together and dine out on each other.”  
Too bad there's no Hitchens left any more, to turn in his grave after it being pointed out that he was filleted by an "establishment" newspaper.

Realistically, I should have titled the post the "dark side" of Hitchens, not the "flip side." If you'll click the link above, or read Glenn Greenwald, linked below, this man was just as bloodthirsty over the Iraq War as George W. Bush or Donald Rumsfeld. And, he had long ago stopped being a leftist, if he ever was one totally in the first place.

World Socialist also says that the story of his various "fallings out" with left groups, such as the Nation, was as much myth as reality, and offers this among examples:
D.D. Guttenplan in the Nation, for example, writes: “The last time I saw Christopher was in the summer of 2009, when he materialized at the edge of the audience after I’d done a reading at Politics and Prose in Washington. There had been a kind of froideur [coldness] between us over various matters, some personal and some political, and I was deeply touched that he’d come. After we exchanged kisses, he asked if I was free for dinner and I explained that I was going out with my cousin and her daughter … Agreeing—or disagreeing—with all of Christopher’s positions over the years was impossible. But he was always very easy to love.”
The WS obit may be uneven here and there in its claims, and here, neglects to say that many people found him personally likeable, even loveable, whatever political disagreements were involved. And, don't we all name-drop at times? And, I'm not a Trotskyist, so I don't feel qualified to parse its comments in that area.

But, it has its good points, and others. As a real journalist of, say, the Middle East with some sort of truly left-of-center claims, I'd take Robert Fisk over Hitchens any time, from British journalists. (It should be noted that Fisk, among others, has won an Orwell Prize. The prizes are non-partisan, but reflect depth of political thought. Hitch's own brother, Peter, won one, too, as did Patrick Cockburn of the famous left-liberal family. Well, except for Alex, who's now writing for paleocons, which in itself may well say something about British left-liberalism!)

So, laud Hitchens, and rightfully, as a Gnu Atheist, or just as an atheist. Laud him as a dropper of bon mots, like Oscar Wilde. Laud him for his English style. Laud him for his essayist skills.

But, don't laud him for his deeper journalism. Or deeper political thought. And, don't even laud him without accepting that he had a dark side, not just a flip side, and that, because he's a public figure, if you go beyond laud to hagiography, people will fire back.

And, let's add to that, this. Was he really an Orwellian type civil libertarian, either?

An even better “counterweight” to Hitchens encomiums than the World Socialist one — Glenn Greenwald nails it, including the issue on etiquette of public figure vs. private figure deaths. Go read it, including this thought:
 And particularly over the last decade, he expressed views — not ancillary to his writing but central to them — that were nothing short of repellent.
Basically, Greenwald does at least a good a “takedown” of Hitch, if not better, than Hitch did of Gore Vidal, on his politics.

While we may laud him as a Gnu Atheist, or just as an atheist, we cannot do so without noting that, to put it bluntly, he was a warmonger who valued Muslim lives in general little more than Sam Harris, and did little more to distinguish between Muslim fundamentalists and average Muslims, in many cases, among other things. Yes, he was a warmonger. And, like Harris, not much different that way than Christian or Jewish neocons. (Somebody alert P.Z. Myers that there are conservative Gnu Atheists.)

Sorry, but, an atheist who was like Hitch was the last 10-15 years of his life, while he had dignity in dying, while living was not the best example of humanism, or close to it.

As for “getting facts straight,” which humanist/paleoatheist R. Joseph Hoffmann claims? Balderdash. He never admitted that he and the BushCo War with Iraq regime he supported got massive amounts of facts wrong. In fact, he refused to admit this to the end of his life, often engaging in scurrilous name-calling when challenged.

He was a great literary stylist. A good literary intellectual, even.

But, in many ways, perhaps petty and shallow. Even if we allow for his upbringing, and his drinking, that's still no excuse for the way he became with the "War on Terror." As Greenwald also notes, his literary skill doesn't give him a pass, either.
There’s one other aspect to the adulation of Hitchens that’s quite revealing. There seems to be this sense that his excellent facility with prose excuses his sins.
Maybe the Hitchens of 20 years ago would have rebuked the Hitchens of 10 years ago. But, I actually doubt that.

Greenwald, in an update, even tackles that, indirectly. Quoting Hitch, Greenwald notes that what's good for the dead goose is good for the dead gander:
The day after Jerry Falwell died, Hitchens went on CNN and scorned what he called “the empty life of this ugly little charlatan,” saying: ”I think it’s a pity there isn’t a hell for him to go to.” As I said, those demanding that Hitchens not be criticized in death are invoking a warped etiquette standard on his behalf that is not only irrational, but is one he himself vigorously rejected.
So, there it is.

No, none of us have perfect lives. But, Hitchens, over the Iraq War, was just like the neocon politicians that Gnu Atheists generally love to mock.

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